Close Encounters

Blue-lined octopus - Hapalochlaena fasciata #marineexplorer
John Turnbull – Flickr

Australia is a beautiful country. There’s nowhere else I’d rather live. But with its beauty comes certain risks.

Take, for example, our stunning outback. Majestic, ancient vistas. Unique flora and fauna, and “about 140 species of land snakes, some equipped with venom more toxic than any other snakes in the world.” (www.australiangeographic.com.au). Throw in a few poisonous spiders and you have the stuff of which tourist nightmares are made (tourists please note, these animals rarely cause deaths in Australia. You’re much more likely to die from an “urticating caterpillar).

We are also lucky enough to have some of the most incredible waterways in the world. Again, there are risks. Sharks, box jellyfish, crocodiles, stingrays and a million other ways to die. But the truth is, most Australians will rarely, if ever, encounter these creatures. Especially for those of us living in big cities. We go to the beach, enjoy our day, and expect to return home safe and sound at the end of it.

Yesterday, we had a rare encounter with a very dangerous creature. It offered a reminder that dangers do exist in Australian waters. Our experience was not Mick Fanning levels of scary, in fact, after the initial shock I realised that I finally had an opportunity to observe a little creature that I’d spent countless hours trying to spot in rock pools.

We had taken Hannah to one of our favourite swimming spots. It is a sheltered, shallow bay in which you can paddle around in knee-deep water for hundreds of metres. The beach and water was teeming with people, old and young, all enjoying the cool relief from the stinking hot day. The large number of people gave me a sense of security that the usual creature to be cautious of – the stingray – would have scattered to more peaceful parts of the bay. Sure enough they were nowhere to be seen as I cautiously entered the water.

I waded through the knee-high water and lowered Hannah in. Her little legs kicked in anticipation as they reached the water. Hannah gurgled with pleasure as I lowered her further in, her hands now able to splash about. Despite the lack of stingrays, the water was far from lifeless. Small fish were in abundance, they lazily stuck to the sandy sea-floor, moving only when they felt that people were too close.

Hannah was enjoying the water immensely, so we waded further out into the bay together. Hannah half walked and half floated through the water with my hand firmly around her waist, to keep her from her ultimate goal of total immersion.

As we slowly wandered through the water, I spotted something move about a metre ahead. Instinctively I pulled Hannah from the water. She was oblivious to the creature I had spotted and squirmed to try and get back in.

I bent over a little to get a better look. The water was crystal clear and sure enough, eight little tentacles emerged from the sand and the creature carried on its journey. It was an octopus, specifically an extremely venomous blue-lined octopus.

I tried to draw Hannah’s attention to the amazing, but dangerous, creature. She wasn’t interested, instead making another lunge for the water. I watched it for a while as it continued its journey, stopping occasionally to half bury itself into the sand.

When I was sure we were safe, I sat down in the water and enjoyed watching Hannah splash joyfully once again.

Where we ever in any danger? Not really. The octopus didn’t flash blue – an indicator that it feels threatened. The only real danger would have come from not seeing it at all and Hannah’s or my foot accidentally stepping on it. But it did serve as a reminder to be aware of the environment and its potential dangers, especially when a tiny, fragile human being is involved.

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